As usual, at Islamic Studies’ Schools, the attention is focused on Islam and the followers of this religion, on non-Muslims’ perceptions concerning the religion and Muslims, and on how the matter actually are - in doctrine, in tradition, in culture ... It was unexpectedly interesting to learn about the another approach: to see in the historical retrospect how the representatives of the Arab (Islamic) world perceived the eastern Slavs and the Rus’ people, what Islamic scholars, researchers and travelers thought about them.
Iryna Martyniak, assistant professor of the Department of Oriental Studies named after Yaroslav Dashkevich at Ivan Franko National University of Lviv presented the report on “Arab Travelers thoughts on Eastern Slavs and Rus people’s Religious Beliefs in the IX-XII Centuries” during the workshop of the VII International Youth Summer School of Islamic Studies “Islam and Social Development: History and Present times”.
In particular, the researcher's report states that the oldest mention concerning the religion of the Slavs in the Arabic sources dated back to the middle of the IX century and is available in the work of the geographer and writer Ibn Hordadbe, under the title "The Book of Roads and the Kingdoms":
"It refers to the fact – sais the researcher - that the Rus’ merchants, who arrived in Baghdad through the Caspian Sea and northern Persia in the middle of the IX century, identified themselves to be Christians. Interestingly, the date given by Ibn Hordadbe’s informers is ahead in one and a half centuries of the official adoption of Christianity by Rus nation in the days of Volodymyr the Great.
However, it’s not all as simple as it sounds. The idolater merchants misled Arab board guards, calling themselves Christians: thus they sought to provide them with more favorable conditions for trading operations in the Arabian Caliphate. The duty amount established in this country for Christians was significantly lower than for idolaters. Therefore, this message is by no means evidence of the Christians presence among the Rus' century and a half before adoption of Christianity by Rus.
There are other reports from Arab travelers that indicate that the adoption of Christianity by Rus’ people took place a few years earlier - before 988 year. According to the naturalistic treatise "Animals’ habits" by al-Marvazi, the Rus’ people supposedly had to accept Christianity at about 300 year of the Muslim era (912 (913) AD), and then, during the reign of Volodymyr the Great, they had to adopt Islam from Khorezmians.
The next Arabic writer who was interested in the Slavs is al-Jahiz. Among the information he provided about the Slavs, the special one is contained in his "Book of Animals" - about the grass-snakes sucking milk from cows.
Ibn al-Fakih al-Hamadani, an Arabian geographer, in his book under the title “The Book of the Lands” twice mentioned the Slavs’ adoption of the Christianity. At first he wrote that the Slavs wear crosses. And later he also provided information that the Slavs living in the Byzantine Empire recognized orthodox Christianity.
Most Arab authors outline that the Slavs worship the fire and astral deities. Ibn Rusteh argues that the Slavs are pagans. On this occasion, he describes the cult celebrations-dedicated to the harvest time, during which in special prayers the Slavs appeal to God, who lives in the heaven.
The following author according to the chronological sequence, who told us about the religious beliefs of the ancient Slavs, is the Arab traveler Abu Hamid al-Andalusi al-Harnati. Abu Hamid argued that the Slavs (believed to be Rus’ people) were Christians who recognized Nestorianism. With such term the traveler by mistake described the orthodox Christianity, the rituals of which had many oriental features that were stranger to Catholicism. Abu Hamid met a conflict of Catholics with sectarians in the well-known to him Khorasan, where both the Melikites and the Nestorians were represented. Once in Rus, Abu Hamid could not ignore the hostile sentiments of the local Orthodox in relation to Catholicism, those sentiments that were well described in the then Rus sources. Having learned about the Orthodox Church’s hostile attitude in relation to the Catholic one, he decided that the Slavs were Nestorians had abandoned the Catholic Church, as well as al-Mas'udi decided that they were Jacobites. Telling that the Slavs were partly Christians-Jacobites, partly, Christians - Nestorians, and some of them had no faith at all, al-Qazvini added that among them there were also fire-worshipers.
In his work Anthology of the Maghreb’s Miracles, which was preserved in a single manuscript, Abu Hamid also wrote about a certain people living near a large river, in which were many beavers. These people had the custom of drowning the witches in the river, fastening their hands and feet. Those who swam up were considered witches, and those who had drowned were innocent. Arabian cosmograph al-Qazvini mentioned this information in his work.
Ibn Fadlan wrote rather a lot about beliefs and cult of Rus’ nation (in this case, the Eastern Slavs), mixed with Scandinavian and Finnish elements. His work contains interesting data on religious beliefs and the cult ceremonies of Rus’ merchants met by Ibn Fadlan where Kama fell into Volga. From the story about the Rus’ people, we learn that there was a certain place of pagan Rus people’s religious worship, Rus merchants visited with a trade purpose.
During his staying at the Volga’s riverside Ibn Fadlan saw the funeral ceremony of a certain noble Rus that he described in detail. Interesting is the dialogue, which Arabian author gave:
"There was a Rus man next to me. I heard that he was talking to an interpreter who was with me. I asked him what he was saying, and the interpreter answered: "He says:" You Arabs are stupid ... You take the most dear person for you and throw him/her to the ground so earth, insects and worms eat him/her " And we burn the most dear person in a moment and so he/she gets into the paradise at the same time".
Among the new original information about the Slavs given to us by al-Mas'udi, we find only fragmentary data concerning the religious beliefs of the ancient Slavs. Al-Mas'udi also presented a description of pagan Slavic shrines, which, unfortunately, is full of fantastic details.
Some Arab authors from XIII century provided with information about the religious beliefs of the Slavs, but their works contain very few original information. For the most part, they rely on old sources that have come from past centuries," - says Iryna Martynyak.
The full report of Iryna Martynyak, as well as the reports of other participants of the VII International Youth Summer School of Islamic Studies, will be published in the next issue of Almanac al-Kalam.
Looking back, on July 1, the VII International Youth Summer School for Islamic Studies "Islam and Social Development: History and the Present times " began its workshop at Kyiv Islamic Cultural Center. This School was once again held by the Ukrainian Center for Islamic Studies with the assistance of the Civic Society Union “All-Ukrainian Association "Alraid", which constantly helps not only directly to launch the school, but also helps to publish the collections of scientific researches, lectures and reports.
Historians, philosophers and religious scholars not only from Ukraine, but also from other countries of the world - in particular, from Poland, Turkey, Moldova showed interest in the School; student youth also was interested in the subject, so today, in addition to officially announced and registered participants, there are a lot of free listeners.